Water Safety For Small Children  

by Pool Builders on 02-04-2012 in Articles

Water is important in a Montessori early learning centre. Learning to pour water is used to learn self-care (getting a drink) as well as a way of experiencing volume in a sensory way. Water is such a basic thing, meaning that a child can continue what they've learned at their Montessori centre at home - you get a jug to suit their hand size, a cup and a series of containers in different sizes, and you just add water for the learning to continue.

There is more to water play than the basic pouring and measuring skills learned at a Montessori centre. Most large Australian cities are built near the coast and/or around rivers, and the beach is an important part of our culture, especially here on the Gold Coast. Our "Montessori parents" love to take their children for a day out at one of our famous beaches, and many have home swimming pools or at least paddling pools.

Water is fun and it keeps you cool, but it can also kill, especially small children. Children under the age of six years old should never be left unattended around any large body of water. Letting a child stand at a table by him/herself pouring water from a child-sized jug into a child-sized cup is one thing; leaving him or her unattended in the bath or in the pool is another thing. It is possible for a child to drown in two minutes in only a few centimetres of water - less water than is found in the typical bathtub or paddling pool. And drowning is silent - you won't hear a call for help to alert you.

Water safety in the bath:

A baby or toddler should NEVER be left alone in the bath even for a moment. Preschoolers are a different matter. As the bath is a good place for a child to practice Montessori-style sensory learning with water and different sizes of container without making a king-sized mess, bathtimes can take longer. You can leave a preschooler (between the ages of three and six) unattended in the bath for short periods while he or she pours and measures, but it's wise to pop in every minute or so, and to keep your ears open for sounds of thuds and splashes that may indicate danger. You should set ground rules for bathtime behaviour to ensure your preschooler's safety. Your child should stay sitting down - no jumping up and down or standing up. This prevents the risk of your child slipping over and hitting his/her head. Often, drowning and near drowning at this age in the bath happen when a child hits his/her head and is stunned. While unconscious, the child's face slips under the water and... A non-slip mat also helps prevent this sort of problem, and you should be present to help your child in and out of the bath.

As we often face water shortages during the hotter times of year in Australia, parents with more than one child often save water by having the kids share the bath. This is a good idea, as it gives the children a chance to experiment and learn about water and volume together. A preschooler should not be left to mind a toddler or baby in the bath, but two preschoolers can be together in the bath unattended for very short periods. If you have children sharing a bath, you should insist on the 'no standing' rule, and you should also insist that boisterous behaviour isn't appropriate - no wrestling, ducking or fighting. Apart from the risk of one child being knocked unconscious, there is also the issue of water splashing everywhere, which is risky in itself as well as being a mess.

Water safety at the pool:

Public swimming pools often have strict rules in place to ensure the safety of children - often, children under a certain age aren't allowed in the water without a guardian over the age of 16 (or thereabouts, depending on the rules of your local pool) within arm's reach of the child at all times. Home swimming pools are a different matter, especially as they aren't patrolled and supervised by professional lifeguards. The most important thing for water safety around a home pool is to have a good fence with a child-proof gate. Accidents can happen when you're not planning to use the pool, such as when a child kicks a ball into the water and tries to get it back - he or she reaches out, slips and...

When you do let your child use the pool, you should be near him or her. This doesn't necessarily mean that you need to be in the pool with your child the whole time, although this is certainly the safest way to let your child use the pool. And it also depends on how deep the water in the pool is. You can leave a child under light supervision in a paddling pool, but in a deeper pool of the type that adults can swim in, you should at least be poolside. You should never let your child out of your sight, and you should be able to get to the pool and to your child in just a few seconds in an emergency - no business calls or fiddly jobs that need your constant supervision.

The sort of pool you have will determine the safety rules. Paddling pools allow for more splashing than baths do, but the rules should be similar. For larger pools, all the rules you see at public pools should apply: no running on potentially slippery surfaces and no ducking (and possibly no diving, although this is unlikely to apply to preschoolers).

Water Safety At The Beach:

The beach is completely different from pools and the bath simply because the sea is natural wild water that is never the same from one day to the next. If you have small children, you should stay with them at all times when swimming at the beach, even if this means that you have to stay in the shallows (take turns caring for children with other adults, or get a baby sitter if you want to surf or the like). It's also best to stick to patrolled beaches rather than remote, deserted ones. As your child becomes more confident in the water, you should still insist on the following rules:

Swim between the flags and follow the instructions of the lifeguards (this applies to adults, too)

Have a parent holding your hand in water over thigh deep (the child's thighs, that is)

Pay particular attention to little "grommets" who body board or who have flotation devices. These may float and keep your child up, but they are also liable to be swept out in a rip. Keep your eyes on the water as well as on your child.

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